Back in the swing of things after the bye. Five big questions about the huge showdown with the Bears.
1. All week it’s been Cutler Cutler Cutler but is Matt Forte the guy we should really be talking about?
I know it’s been a few weeks since the debacles against Tampa Bay and Seattle, but that’s no excuse to totally forget about those games and what they told us about the Vikings’ defense. The Lions game was something of a rebound game for the Vikings’ defense but let’s not forget who was running the ball. Mikel Leshoure may be a serviceable back but no one is mistaking him for Marshawn Lynch. Thanks to match-ups, the Vikings got a one week reprieve from their run defense struggles. Now they face a Bears team with a re-shuffled offensive line and a QB coming off a concussion. What do you think their approach is going to be? If Mike Tice is smart – ha ha – he will hand the ball off to Matt Forte a whole lot. That of course has not necessarily been the Bears’ habit this year. Forte’s had a couple games over 20 carries but he’s also had some games way under that. They haven’t been feeding him consistently is what I’m saying. If they have any sense, they’ll reverse that trend at least for this week. I’m sure Tice watched the tape of what Tampa and Seattle did. Forte is certainly capable of putting up a huge performance if you give him the chance. So while we’re all focused on Jay Cutler and the offensive line shuffle, let’s not forget about Forte. He may end up being the key to this whole thing.
2. Is Christian Ponder about to walk into a meat grinder?
The argument can be made that this is Christian Ponder’s biggest game as a Viking. And not just because they’re still in playoff contention. It’s big for him because of who he is facing and the circumstances around the match-up. He’s going into Soldier Field to face the best defense in the league. And not just the best defense but the best ball-hawking defense. And we know the struggles Ponder has had at times with ball security. I need not mention that he is entering this game with his best receiver likely on the shelf. Of course he has Adrian Peterson on his side and that helps. But somewhere along the line Ponder is going to have to make a play or two if the Vikings want to win this. And when those moments arise he needs to deliver. Not to the other team either. This is a stern test for Ponder, one that will tell us a whole lot about what the kid is made of. If he can go down there and win this game, that’s a big feather in his cap. That will go a long way toward making me believe he can be the guy.
3. Why are we assuming the Vikings’ defensive line is just going to eat up the Bears’ offensive line?
It’s supposed to be a foregone conclusion that the Vikings will have 10 sacks against the Bears on Sunday. It’s even been suggested that the Bears should sit down Jay Cutler to protect him from the mauling that is about to go down. This “Vikings Kill Bears Offensive Line” scenario leaves out one pertinent detail: The Vikings’ defensive line has not been consistently good this year. In fact it has arguably been terrible against the run. But we’re not talking about the run, we’re talking about the pass rush. Even in that area, this front four has been up-and-down. At times, yes, it has looked like a dominating unit. But there have been a lot of times where we’ve wondered what happened to that vaunted pass rush. Call me skeptical but I’m just not convinced this is the huge mismatch everyone thinks. I think the Bears offensive line, reshuffled as it is, will hold its own against the Vikings. This will come down to whether the Vikes can make a big play in a big situation, be that a sack or a batted pass or an interception or a forced fumble. Games like this always come down to those plays. Also, what happens if the Bears crank up Matt Forte? He seems like the perfect player to exploit the Vikings’ aggressive downhill defensive approach. We’ll see.
4. Is Adrian Peterson about to do something monumental?
On the surface this looks like an epic AD performance in the making. Well-rested coming off the bye. Bears struggling a little in run defense. Vikings trying to minimize the pressure on Ponder by cranking up the run game. If Peterson runs for 120 it will be a disappointment. That’s what it feels like right now. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Recent games notwithstanding, the Bears still have a great defense. And they’ve seen Peterson lots of times before and know exactly how to approach him. And the Vikings still have to throw the ball enough to keep the Bears honest. And what if the Bears jump on top by 14? The Vikings won’t be able to just run the ball down their throats then. We all expect Peterson to do something epic but a solid game is what we should be asking for. A solid well-rounded mistake-free offensive performance with Peterson doing his part. 300 and 4 TDs would be nice too but let’s not get silly.
5. Why do I have a funny feeling this game will come down to a kicker making a big late field goal?
This is a battle of clutch kickers. Blair Walsh vs. Robbie Gould. Batten down the hatches when these two lock horns. I close my eyes and I see someone kicking a ball through a fierce Soldier Field wind with 10 seconds left in the game. And it’s good! I don’t know if it’s Robbie Gould or Blair Walsh. Darn this foggy crystal ball.
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